7 Ways to Avoid Handmade Business Burnout

How to Avoid Burnout in Your Handmade Business

I’ve seen it over and over again — New Makers with stars in their eyes, launching a new business selling products they love to make, scratching an insatiable creative itch. In the beginning comes the honeymoon, the period of time when everything is sunshine and roses. There is nothing but love, and you cannot wait to get to the point where you can quit your job and awaken every morning to pursue your passion and make more stuff.

Then one day, the enthusiasm dampens when someone tells you that all of the handmade product buyers are on Instagram. This is shocking to you because you thought they were all on Facebook, and you spent $300 and several months perfecting the targeting and timing of your sponsored Facebook posts. Then, a customer writes a negative review on her Twitter and publicly asks for her money back — tagging your Twitter handle of course. And to top it all off, you breezed by your home feed on Facebook just in time to see a picture of a desperate homeless puppy, a video of a person being shot, and a political meme that makes your blood boil.

Now, you have to stop everything and share your political leanings, let your friends know that the puppy can be adopted, and learn Instagram, but not until you deal with the unhappy customer before she jeopardizes your perfectly clean merchant account record by reporting you to her bank. And you still have more products to make and ship before the close of business. You are approaching meltdown mode. A few more days like this and you will burn out.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. It should not be this way. While you cannot avoid the crazy, stressful challenges of entrepreneurship altogether, you can avoid becoming a small business casualty. Here are seven ways to avoid handmade entrepreneurial burnout.

How to Avoid Burnout in Your Handmade Business

1. Articulate Precise Personal and Business Goals and Time Frames

How will your business complement your lifestyle and serve you and your family? How many sales do you need to close each week to make your annual sales goal? What is your annual sales goal? What is the lowest possible cost per product your business can absorb and still maintain a healthy profit margin? Do you want to sell your business in the future, or let it die with you as the sole owner? If the former, what do you need to do to maximize the value of your business over time?

This is a tiny sampling of the questions you need to ask on the front end of your business, before you spend thousands of dollars on equipment, supplies and programs. Map out your plan. Identify in advance what you want to achieve so you can take action steps that will lead you in that direction.

2. Maintain a Manageable Product Line

After you know what you want your business do to for you, map out a product line that make sense. (Sorry, but this means you will probably not be able to make everything you love to make.) Like many new entrepreneurs, chances are good that you have too many product ideas and not enough time or supplies to execute them all.

Start with a small, targeted line available in a few variations. Launch with products that have the highest profit margin (even if they are not your favorite ones to make) so you can build the steady stream of cash flow needed to fund your growth. Resist the temptation to make, package, photograph, Instagram, blog about, and sell every single thing you can possibly make just because you can. Be focused. Be strategic.

It’s far better to sell a large quantity of a few products than to sell a small quantity of a lot of products.

3. Don’t Do Anything that Does Not Fit into your Articulated Goals and Time Frames

I have heard it said that people become successful because of what they choose not to do, even more than because of what they choose to do. After nearly 17 years in business, I have concluded that this is true. Trying to do too many things often means you end up doing nothing.

This Forbes.com article cites a study that concludes that multitasking reduces efficiency and performance, and even lowers your IQ. Talk about stressful!

Make a list of all of the things that must be routinely done in your business, then double check it and eliminate anything that can either be merged into another activity or which does not really need to be done at all. Your final list should contain only the things that must get done to feed your goals. Work with this list and nothing more.

4. Schedule Everything You can Possibly Schedule

Now that you know what you have to do, you can schedule it. Subtract 6 to 8 hours for sleep from your daily allotment of 24 hours, and write down what you will do, and when, in the 16 to 18 hours you have left. Include time for yourself and your friends and family of course, and stick to this as closely as possible. This is the only way you can ensure that the items you have identified as critical actually get done.

5. Create a Branded Ecosystem by Focusing on Serving your Existing Target Customers

It takes less money, time and energy to keep the business of an existing customer than it does to pursue and win a new one. Of course, part of your job is to acquire new customers, but don’t do so at the risk of losing existing ones.

Nurturing a small but steadily growing group of people who buy your products all year long means you are building brand-loyal customers who will buy and tell their friends about how great your products are. The more they buy and the more you serve them, the more thy will see themselves in your products.

Also, through your social media channels and markets or events you host, many of your customers will likely meet each other and new relationships can blossom. The result should be an ecosystem in which you and your brand can thrive. Cultivate these relationships and use your social media to solidify them. They are your bread and butter.

6. Delegate Non-negotiable Action Items that You Cannot do Yourself

Now that you have pared your non-negotiable business tasks to the bare minimum, it’s time to get some help. Farm out everything you don’t want to do, don’t have time to do, or are not good at doing. If, like many Makers, you have control issues, delegate small tasks first. Once you see how happy, relaxed and not burned out you are when you delegate you will become quite good at it.

7. Avoid as Much News as You Possibly Can and Still be a Reasonably Fun Cocktail Party Guest

The news is distracting and distressing on multiple levels. This NPR News article cites several studies documenting the negative psychological effects of bad news: acute stress and symptoms akin to those experienced by people with post-traumatic stress disorder to name a few.

Avoid the news. Suppress push notifications unless they feed your goals and priorities. (See Number 1, above.) Maintain as much of a positive mindset as you possibly can. You will have to fight for this, but it’s worth it. You cannot effectively manage the details of your business if you are constantly replaying tragedies in the back of your mind.

No matter what you make and sell, or what kind of business you have, be clear about what you are creating and embrace these steps to minimize frustration and maximize profitability and, of course, fun!

Question: How do you avoid handmade burnout?

NASDAQ Photo via Shutterstock


Donna Maria Coles Johnson Donna Maria is the founder and CEO of the Indie Business Network, a trade organization providing mentoring and coaching services, and affordable product liability insurance, to makers and creative entrepreneurs across North America. An award-winning small business advocate, Donna Maria has hosted the Indie Business Podcast since 2005. She blogs at Indie Business Blog.

8 Reactions
  1. I think it pays to always be present in what you are doing. Don’t be too consumed about the end result and enjoy the process. This helps me to continue to be creative.

  2. I think being unique also makes a point. Even if we are selling same kind of products which many others sell, try to add something that makes us different. It could be anything like design, style or packing.
    And i liked the point “It’s far better to sell a large quantity of a few products than to sell a small quantity of a lot of products”. It is so true.

  3. Great tips & reminders Donna Maria. “…people become successful because of what they choose not to do, even more than because of what they choose to do.” YES! Being a diligent gatekeeper of your time is crucial (and challenging). Something I’m always working on improving.

  4. Maintaining a manageable product line is something I learned early from La Shonda Tyree. Just because I can make something (and maybe I do make it for myself) doesn’t mean I have to sell it. I remind myself everyday.

  5. Yes! We especially learned the lesson of having a managable product line the hard way! Great tips.

  6. Once again Donna Maria Coles Johnson hits it out of the small business park. She always gives us no-nonsense and very smart advice wrapped in a very professional bow of, ” Do What Works.”